Copyright in, out and extended (Collaborative Bibliography I)

18 Oct

First time I got involved with copyright was around year 2000 when I was a young chap learning piano at the Conservatory. As you can imagine, we needed some sheet music to read, analyse and play at the piano, the ones from the big boys like Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and the rest of the band. All musicians around that have been professionally taught some time will agree with me that our teachers always taught us just a small work (a sonata, a study or whatever) from each composer. By the way, sheet music books were (and still are) made so that they are published to comprise full thematic works in several volumes by the composer like for example, the book with the Piano Sonatas by Mozart (here shown the Volume 2).

Piano teaching

Those were the days, more or less. Photo by Alec Couros (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

These books, made by top music publishers were very accurate in notation and indications, but also very expensive. And as I was telling you before, I only needed ONE sonata in particular, which might be 3 or 4 pages in length, not more. I didn’t need to pay for like 15 sonatas when I wasn’t going to study them until at least 2 years later, so why buying that books?

We all tried to photocopy only the required work suggested by our teacher, and most of the times they gave us directly photocopied the material so that we didn’t have to make a fool of ourselves to get them. They wanted us to learn, not to start spending money like mad. But it also happened that they didn’t always have the books with them, or as it happened in my case, some of them were threatened by the Conservatory as they might be incurring in illegal acts of Copyright breaking. So we had to start looking for our own sources, the first contact with the ugly adult world. At that time, it wasn’t that easy to find everything you needed in Internet so I ended up having to buy quite a few sheet music books.

To make a long story short, it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I knew about the existence of a project called International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP), which makes available a lot of sheet music works. The only ones that are legally shared are those that are in public domain, because their composer died more than 50 years ago and the editions of those works are more than 50 years old too, thus the copyright protection of 50 years post-mortem is over. But there are also some problems because they are protected by the 70 years post mortem term in some other countries. Anyway, the sheet music collection is more than impressive: it’s thorough, comprehensive and of a great quality. Had I known this 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have spent my money in so many books that are now laying under my piano chair…

IMSLP logo

IMSLP: the biggest project in sheet music ever done. (Photo taken from the MIT )

You can read more about copyright expiry this in this excellent web about Public Domain and Copyright Expiration according to the laws in the USA. Although I know it’s different in every country, it’s still very interesting and insightful about how it has evolved over time and which exceptions you can find to the norm. Although it’s quite complex, let me quote what that web explains for the most plain cases: “If the work was published before 1923, it’s in the public domain. If a work was published after 1963, its copyright has not expired, so it won’t be in the public domain for that reason.” But there are more tips and tricks to it; it’s not as simple as it seems, believe me.

This has also come to my mind by reading the most recent news on the last European Commission directive to extend the copyright term of sound recordings from 50 to 70 years. This issue has come to light in the last 3 years mainly because the back catalogue of bands like The Beatles, or even Cliff Richards (main promotor of this Act, so that it has been nicked “Cliff’s Law”) could become Public Domain, and that’s not something good for discographic companies.

Is that law really good for promoting creativity? 70 years of copyright claims are not just too many? I am not going to go any further on the topic here because I just wanted to make you think another bit, so this is up for your comments!

I think that discussion on this topic useful for my MSCSM group in order to learn when can Copyright rights be claimed… or not.

See you in the next post!

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